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How to Shoot Photos for the Sunset in Bagan?

Bagan in Myanmar is one of the most photogenic destinations in Southeast Asia. The former capital of the Pagan Empire first saw the daylight in the 2nd century AD. However, it took it around a millennium to reach its pinnacle.

Had you visited Bagan in the 13th century instead of reading this article now, you would have seen over 10,000 spires of temples dotting the skyline. Due to various reasons, wars and earthquakes among others, this number was reduced to 2,000 at present.

The rise of the Pagan Empire corresponds to the reign of Anawratha, who ruled from 1044 to 1077. The monarch received Buddhism from a monk of an Indian city he conquered. Furthermore, he came into possession of a holy Buddhist relic that was brought to Bagan for safekeeping.

And here we are, with a few thousand temples to admire and take photos of.

Until the downfall of the Pagan Empire in 1287, Bagan looked like a giant porcupine with thousands of spires rising skyward. Some rulers were devout indeed, but others commissioned stunning temples to negate bad karma for terrible misdeeds.

Take a beautiful photos of Bagan
Take a beautiful photos of Bagan

Once the end of the mighty empire came, rulers of subsequent dynasties didn't forget Bagan. Sadly, they didn't manage to preserve all the landmarks.

Notwithstanding, Bagan is among the most photographed destinations in Southeast Asia. Many tourists don't spare their cameras when visiting this Asian jewel, and rightly so. Sunrise and sunset are the most popular times of the day for taking photos of the old capital.

Know, however, that you need to take various preparations to make the most of your photography tour in Myanmar. Paramount is to choose the right season and arrive at the right time. So, read on to learn what you need to do to shoot exceptional sunset photos in Bagan.

How to choose best time for shooting sunset in Bagan?

If the heat doesn't bother you, you can plan a photography tour of Bagan year-round. Travelers preferring to sweat less over more should plan a trip between November and February. Average air temperatures during this period are around 30°C/86°F, a piece of cake by the local standards.

- Check for more about best time to visit Myanmar.

If temperatures rising to 40°C/104°F are of no concern to you, consider arriving between March and May, which is the shoulder season in Bagan. To compete with fewer tourists for the best photo spot, come from June to September. By the way, secure an umbrella carrier to assist you during your Bagan photo tour this time of year.

The end of the monsoon, which corresponds to the arrival of October, is the best time for visiting Bagan, Myanmar, by many. Travelers are fewer than during the high season and you are far less likely to need an assistant mentioned in the previous paragraph.

October is the best time for visiting Bagan
October is the best time for visiting Bagan

As for the best times of the day for taking photos of Bagan's temples, these are undoubtedly sunrise and sunset. The key advantage of witnessing the sunrise over Bagan is the lack of visitors that throng the destination in the evening.

As for the sunset, things tend to get a bit more complex. Therefore, keep reading.

Choosing the best site for shooting sunset in Bagan

Bagan has a few thousand temples of various heights. In light of this, you may think that finding a spot for a sunset photo session should be easy. But, not so fast.

Because of various reasons, most of which relate to irresponsible visitors, only a few Bagan temples are currently open for climbing.

- Check for more about 4-days Bagan highlight tour.

Bulethi (Buledi)

Located by the road from Old Bagan to Nyaung U, Bulethi Pagoda is one of the best-kept secret spots for sunset. Ask the locals about the direction since signposts typically don't indicate small pagodas.

Mystery shrouds the history of the Bulethi Pagoda. The only conclusive thing is that the structure dates back to the 11th century. The reason that we place this Buddhist monument in the first place is the tendency of low crowds.

As you probably guess, you are not the only one interested in shooting sunset photos in Bagan from vantage points. And those other people mostly crowd famous temples, such as Bupaya.

Bulethi Pagoda
Bulethi Pagoda

From Bulethi, you can admire almost unobstructed views towards the mountains in the distance. You may need to exert some effort to find this temple featuring a few receding terraces crowned with a bell-shaped peak (shikhara).

So, start heading toward this Bagan jewel early to make it there until 4 pm and secure a good sunset spot.

Bupaya (Bu Phaya)

The Bupaya Pagoda's origins depend on whom you ask. However, the undisputed fact is that it was built somewhere between the third and the 11th century.

Bupaya sits next to the Irrawaddy, the river that splits Myanmar from north to south. So, the easiest way of finding this sacred site with a golden dome is by the river. If you arrive by land, Bu Phaya is in the north of Old Bagan.

From the riverside, you might mistake the temple for a fortress. A strange fortress, though, since it features a cylindrical stupa topped by a hti (a finial, if you prefer in English).

The Bupaya Pagoda
The Bupaya Pagoda

Still, it offers some of the best sunset views in Bagan. Many travelers know this, so don't expect to be alone when visiting Bu Phaya for a sunset photo session. Therefore, arrive as early as 3:30 pm to secure a spot for taking the best photos.

While you are around, take some time to admire elaborate pavilions and Chinthes, lion-like creatures guarding the pagoda and temple entrances.

Lawkananda (Loka Nanda)

Lawkananda is another riverside pagoda, located downstream from Bu Phaya. Another feature these structures have in common is a gilded stupa. It tops an octagonal base comprising three receding terraces. Built during the 11th century by Anawratha, Lawkananda safeguards a sacred relic of Buddha.

Jewels adorn the stupa's gilded hti, while the dome boasts elaborate floral motifs. Just like Bupaya, two Chinthes guard the imposing Buddhist monument.

Lawkananda is a riverside pagoda
Lawkananda is a riverside pagod

The stupa maybe isn't among the loftiest, but it offers extraordinary sunset views. When you climb its viewing platform, a view encompassing the Irrawaddy River and the distanced mountain range opens in front of you.

Furthermore, you can admire the stupa's magical reflection on the river surface. Although most travelers seek higher Bagan viewpoints to admire the sunset, don't arrive too late to secure your spot here.

Thisa Wadi Temple

Approximately halfway from Lawkananda to Nyaung U, you will find Thisa Wadi, a temple featuring three stories. This feature is a rarity among Bagan temples, which are typically two-story structures.

Thisa Wadi's commissioner was Queen Pwa Saw. The temple was completed toward the end of the 13th century when the Pagan Empire was facing its demise. Dhammayazika, a striking temple crowned with a golden spire, is nearby.

Thisa Wadi Temple
Thisa Wadi Temple

From the temple's viewing deck, you can admire colorful sunsets since the view extends westward and southward. Besides many spires, you will admire vast Bagan plain from there.

Albeit located near the road, most travelers don't visit Thisa Wadi for cherishing sunsets. Still, arrive somewhat earlier to see Buddha images located in the temple.

North (Myauk) Guni Temple

You will find North Guni Temple by the side road leading from Shwesandaw to Dhammayangyi (don’t confuse with Dhammayazika). Built shortly before the Mongols swept through the Pagan Empire, Myauk Guni is one of the top sunset spots in Bagan.

Maybe the temple stands today thanks to the inscription that curses anyone who destroys it. Furthermore, a stone inscription inside the North Guni indicates Pwa Saw as its commissioner.

Visiting sunset in Bagan North Guni Temple
Visiting sunset in Bagan North Guni Temple

To access the viewpoint, you will need to take a winding passageway leading to the seventh floor. From there, views of groves, Shwesandaw, Dhammayangyi, and spires of other distanced temples under the colorful sunset sky will enchant you.

By now, you know that you should arrive before the sunset to secure a spot, don't you?

Bagan Sunset Tour Tips

You can cover the ground in and around Bagan by bike, e-bike, car, horse-drawn carriage, and balloon. For budget-conscious travelers who don't wish to sacrifice efficiency, an e-bike is a top choice. Eight-hour rental costs up to $12, while a sunset tour tends to be half that amount.

Bike rentals cost around $2. However, opt for this option only if you are in excellent shape or are a seasoned biker. Otherwise, you won't manage to visit many temples since they are scattered.

Travelers that don't regret splurging should opt for a car or balloon. Car rentals range from $30 to $50 per day, while the balloon will set you back $300 per person.

For a sunset photo tour of Bagan temples, you will need - a headlamp. Come to think of it, a torch would do, too. Since temple sections tend to be dark, good illumination is essential for getting to viewpoints.

Also, dress respectfully and get around in flip-flops since you can enter temples barefoot only. Therefore, bring cleansing wipes, too.

You can travel safely anywhere in Myanmar, including Bagan. Narrow temple passes and low ceilings may present the only real health risk there.

To explore Bagan, or the Bagan Archaeological Zone, to be precise, you need to pay a K25,000 ticket. This amount corresponds to around $16 and the ticket is valid for three days.


So, for a few or several dozen US$, you can visit many Bagan temples and have quite a long sunset photo tour. At the time of writing this article, Shwesandaw Pagoda, one of the most prominent local Buddhist temples, is closed due to repair.

If the temple becomes open for climbing again, don't forget to include it in your Bagan sunset photo tour itinerary. You would likely feel like a fish in a can squeezed between other travelers, but you would hardly mind.

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